Thursday, October 31, 2013

Behind the Brand Curtain

by Claire Robertson

Ever wonder who the wizard is behind the curtain of your favorite healthy, organic, or sustainable brand?  I did a little investigation and some of the findings might surprise you! If you are a consumer like me who likes making a purchase to support the “good little guys” and socially conscious companies, you'll want to take note.

Let’s start off in the cereal aisle. Because of its line of nutritious products and its earthy packaging design, Kashi gives the impression of being a small business focused on sustainability and social practices. When I’d buy Kashi, there was a part of me that felt good because I figured that I was supporting the brand that would help keep the planet healthy.  Kashi, after all, is the antithesis of a high-sugar junk food breakfast. But, an investigation into the brand revealed that Kashi was acquired by the Kellogg Company thirteen years ago! Kellogg Company is one of the big promoters of the sugary breakfast cereals and snacks brands (Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops, Froot Loops and Pop Tarts) that I didn’t want to support!

Still more from the cereal aisle: Quaker oatmeal is a product that any mom would want to her family to eat.  Mom’s like it to keep slim. Grandpa eats it to keep his diabetes down. The kid have a hearty, healthy breakfast. The Quaker brand, personified by the Quaker man himself is a symbol of honesty, hard work, and purity of life.  Yet, an investigation into Quaker Oats is owned by PepsiCo! It’s ironic that one of the best peddlers of sugar-water (and contributor to the obesity epidemic) is also dealing oats.

Lärabars are my new favorite energy bars. They are vegan, made with unprocessed foods and never have more than nine ingredients in them. The brand has got an independent vibe to it. Plus, the two dots over the A tell me that it is an import from Scandinavia! It has to be good those  blonde, northern Europeans practice clean living and eating, and have a balanced, healthy lifestyle. However, my indie bar Lärabars is actually owned by General Mills – a mega conglomerate who has a portfolio of more than 100 brands. General Mills seems to like the Euro brands in their portfolio. After all, they are the parents to Haagen Dasz and Yoplait France! Who would have thought?

Let’s look at one more. This one is from the cosmetics department. Burt’s Bees is known for its products manufactured with natural ingredients, its social business practices and its community involvement. These brand values capture both the attention and hearts of consumers like me. Yet, Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox – a bleach company. Bleach, of course poses problems to the environment.

            Of course, sustainability is growing in importance to consumers and sales in this space are projected to grow. You could argue that there is a positive side to the mega conglomerates buying out the Burt’s Bees, Larabars, and Quakers. After all, distribution of these brands makes the brands more available and the marketing muscle behind them can help shift consumer attitudes to more socially conscious purchases . But I can’t quite get over the fact that there are thousands and thousands of  consumers out there getting duped. When they think they are buying from socially-concious, environmentally friendly, or independent brand to support an idea or company, they are in fact supporting the conglomerates who hold exactly the opposite values.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"UN Rita" & our awesome, diverse world

“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” ― Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

* * *

 Last week, one of my dearest friends passed away.  Her name was Rita O'Sullivan.  She was in her 90s.

Rita was always a special person to me.  She was a close family friend who gave me my first summer job when I was 16.  I sold books in her bookstore. She taught me how to play Scrabble. She always won. Rita also gave me my first sip of cognac. I'll never forget that day.  I was 11 years old and it was New Year's Eve. To quote Rita, "we'll separate the men from the boys tonight."  I toasted with the men (my dad included)  and my throat burned like hell from a drop of the stuff.  I learned to respect hard alcohol the hard way.

There is something that Rita had in her heart that separated her from almost everybody else I ever met and is why her legacy is so much more than jobs, board games, and a fun times. Rita loved people- all people- no matter skin color, heritage, faith, abilities, or origins. She was the best teacher of humanity, respect, and human love because of the way she lived. Anyone who followed Rita's approach learned from her just how amazing each person really is. This is a key part of her legacy that lives on...

Every New Year's Eve, my family would go to Rita's legendary New Year's Eve parties. There, Rita would have a full complement of  United Nations to celebrate with. There were Catholics, Evangelicals and Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. There were Vietnamese, Sinhales, and Irish; Indians, Latinos, Ukrainians and Poles. Her guests had names like "James", "Nang", "Dabadaba", and  those names that need a deep click in the throat to pronounce. Rita, who herself was a devout Catholic, lived diversity. Her mantra was "God made all people to love one another." Gandhi might not have made his famous statement, "I love your Christ. [But I don't like Christians because]so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ" had he had a chance to hang around with Rita.

* * *

So what does all this have to do with brands and marketing? When you think about it, people from different geographies develop expertises. Companies and brands, then have the opportunity to leverage geographies of origin when marketing their products (e.g. think how Chanel is linked to Paris).  So, in a tribute to Rita - and  in a celebration of human diversity, I've created a back-of-the-envelope of geography-of-origin expertise directory. These  geographies of origins are countries, cities, and places from around the world that have become identified as leading sources which can be leveraged for brand building. When you look down the list, think how much more exciting and interesting our world is, because of people from all over our world. Join me in this toast to Rita- with a sip of cognac in hand.

The Geography-of-Origin Alphabet:

Brazilian models
Argentinian tango / beef
Australian surfboards
Belgian chocolate
Botswana diamonds
Brazilian bathing suits and models
British academics / fish n'chips /rock n' roll
Canadian hockey /maple syrup
Californian clean technology
Chinese tea / jade /martial arts /fireworks
Colombian coffee

Florida oranges
Cuban cigars
Danish children's stories and toys
Egyptian cotton / dates
Ethiopian long distance runners
Florida oranges
French fragrances/ beauty products /champagnes
German engineering / automobiles /beer
Greek olives / feta / ship-making
Hollywood films
Indian computer programming / spices
Iranian caviar, Persian carpets
Idaho potatoes

Egyptian cotton
Irish beer
Israeli technology /skin muds & salts
Italian fashion / design / wines
Japanese electronics /automobiles
Jamaican rum
Korean electronics and ginseng
Liberian rubber
Lithuanian thermal energy
Mexican tequila / silver
Moroccan beauty oils

Polish vodka
New Zealand lamb
Orlando theme parks
Pakistani cricket
Portuguese wines
Polish vodka / kielbasa
Russian vodka / satellites
Saudi Arabian dates
Scandinavian spas
Scottish whiskey
Spanish wines / (Iberian) ham
Swiss watches / chocolate
Thai silk /sticky rice / rubber

Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee / baths / silks
Ukrainian pierogies
Uruguayan mate
Venezuelan models
Wales leeks
Wisconsin dairy
Yemeni rugs
Zambian emeralds

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I'm a Brand for Halloween 2013

One of my most shared entries of 2012 was "I'm a brand for Halloween". Today, I launch the sequel.

Halloween is big business. Costume sales alone (in the USA) are expected to be around $2.75 billion.  That's almost up $1 billion from 2010. You probably see the evidence around you. There are more pop-up Halloween stores - carrying more inventory than ever before. There are even nationally branded pop-up store chains dedicated to selling Halloween costumes (e.g. Spirit Halloween). Some online stores have assortments of over 15,000 costumes and accessories. Friends, Halloween is not a side holiday. It is one joining the big ones. Halloween is as mainstream as it gets and drives right in the heart of popular culture.  And, I find it pathetic that some in the public sector/ school systems want to get rid of Halloween. I think they should be sent to the gym to play dodgeball.  (See this article by Jesse Kline on the war against Halloween.) 

Why is Halloween so cool? It's fun for kids. I remember being a kid, dressing up as a pirate, and returning home with my loot bag of candy. Halloween brought the neighbors together because everyone in the neighborhood would see everyone. For the singles, it's fun to dress up, flirt, and just escape into a spirited energy night. For parents and grandparents- it is an awwwwwwwwwwwwe filled night looking at the munchkins when they are all dolled up!

But, this blog anchors around marketing.  And, for business to consumer branders, Halloween has interesting opportunities.  Check out this the gentle marketing  on the Starbuck's blog. The "voice" of the Starbucks blog is nudging Starbucks lovers to make Starbucks part of their Halloween costumes.

Halloweens and Brand Lovers
The truth is that people can love their brands. I've blogged a lot about how brands have personality and are symbolic devices. On Halloween, branded costumes can be a signal for what the wearing is trying to communicate. If you are the Kool-Aid man, you're ready to party!  If you are the Energizer bunny, you're signalling energy all night.  Thousands of people do this.  Do some searches. You'll find no end of examples of people making costumes of their favorite brands. Here are a few:

Michelin Man Halloween costume

High on Awwwe: Pillsbury Doughboy
Oh Yeah Halloween: Kool Aid Man
Tim Bits and Tim's Coffee brand Halloween costumes
The 5 flavors of Four Loco
Highly Energized Bunny
Think of the time, effort, and commitment that the folks above went to make Halloween costumes of their favorite brands.

Now if you are a brander or marketer, think of the impact that these costumes have.

If you saw any of the costumes above, I'm guessing you'd take notice. The costumes are attention-getting and are very interesting walking ads (or crawling in the case of Pillsbury Doughboy) for the brand. In short, these costumes are awareness reminders of the brand.

Check out the girls in the Four Loco brand costumes. They are holding the Four Loko drinks (which coincidentally are the flavors they are wearing). I don't think that I am making too much of a stretch when I say that there is a pretty good chance that  if you are dressed up as a Budweiser beer on Halloween night, you're drinking a Bud. Or, if a munchkin rings your bell "Trick or treat" and is wearing an M&M's costume, I'm also thinking I'd be more prone to hand out some M&M's for the candy bag.

Profile picture for almost a year from these guys
Social network effect
Check out the guys above.  They used Halloween to get pictures with girls, which, I am guessing end up on their social media sites. By the way, their picture post on Facebook will have more branding impact than if the brand advertised on the social network itself  (see academic study on Facebook by Aral and Walker 2011).

Identified brand ambassador
Finally, and most importantly, the folks who are dressing up as brands for Halloween are identifying themselves as brand ambassadors- those who will spread the gospel of the brand. Ambassadors are not always the easiest to find. If the brand managers are on-the-ball, they can use the Halloween costume as opportunity to further engage their brand lovers.

These are some of the reasons why some brands have licensed out their brand elements (names, logos, characters) to Halloween costume manufacturers. Let's take a look at some of the most interesting costumes available this year.

Brands with most Halloween costume variety: Coca-Cola

If you would like to be Coca-Cola for Halloween this year, check out your options: bottle, can, cup - in both classic and diet. Of course, if you want to go retro you could be a Coke seller.

Brands with most Halloween costume variety: M&Ms
Each M&M character has his own personality

Brand Halloween with a family appeal
Meet the Heinz family

The baby is thinking: "Mom is hot, but dad needs to hit the gym"
Green Giant and Sprout!

Brand Halloween for couples


Brand Halloween costumes designed for merger
The King and Wendy's

 Brand team costumes: I think they came to the party together

Brand Halloween costumes that  come with the line "Can I buy you a drink?"

Capt'n Morgan

Brand Halloween costume you hope you don't see

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

6 Classics: "Best of" Marketing / Branding pictures on the web

Images are powerful communications tools.  (See Stories of Sight, Sound and Substance) So, I thought I would share some of the "Best of" Marketing and Branding pictures/illustrations that have circulated on the web. These are classics of the web.

What's the difference among direct selling, advertising, public relations, and branding? This picture is based on a viral email (well, viral for those working in the marketing and branding space) that has been circulating for years:  Is He a Great Lover? or He is a Great Lover.

What's the difference between sales and marketing? This image posted here on Lane Reiss's  business and marketing blog makes a nice statement.

Here's a cutesy one that I like showing in my brand class and workshops. Welcome to the world of global brands munchkin! This kiddo is probably using Google and Mac, two brands not inked on him. Time for an upgrade.

Call it overwhelmed by brand choice or a hyper competitive marketing world? When the average supermarket carries  38,718 store keeping units (skus) and thousands of brands, you see the need for packaging that pops attention. This picture first appeared in 2009 here.

Ever wonder where the buyouts tool us? Chris Brown (no, not that Chris Brown), posted this image that showcases 11 companies that like to gobble up brands.  From the many, there are a few.  It is interesting how Unilever houses both Dove and Axe-  two brands with polar opposite brand ideals. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The difference between sales and marketing

After a leading a "why you probably need more marketing" workshop last week, I had a chat with one of the CEOs in attendance. His company has been pretty successful driving sales using only sales people. He asked me why anyone in his position should push a marketing agenda for sales beyond sales force efforts.

I responded that sales force and marketing should have an intimate, special relationship. When done right, marketing should generate sales leads, accelerate sales closings, lower the cost of consumer acquisition (CCA), and improve key ratios like CCA:LTV (life time value of a customer).

That's the rational argument. He liked it.

But he loved this:

If you're a singer and you fill the seats in the stadium, you've done a good job at selling.

If you're a singer and you've got a sold-out stadium of fans wanting a piece of you, that's marketing!

You've been marketed when...

The Brand Tattoo Alphabet

I'm always curious what brands different people like and why.  A few summers ago I was standing in line at the water slides and saw a 20 something year old man with a giant tattoo of the Pillsbury Dough Boy on his back. I had to ask, "Why the Dough Boy ink?"  His response kind of caught me off guard.  "I love Pillsbury."  He didn't say that he loved the character- he said that he loved the brand.  So I started thinking- how common is it have people love brands so much they make permanent marks on their bodies?  To do this, I did some popular brand searches on Google.  It turns out, it is not uncommon for people to tattoo commercial brands on their bodies.  It is common enough for me to create the tattoo brand alphabet within 30 minutes. So here is the first tattoo brand alphabet on the internet. (Not sure if I should be proud of that!)

The brands that reappeared in the 30 minutes search:

A- Adobe, Apple. Tons of Apple brand tattoos. Apple may rival our entry at "H" for top spot.
B- BMW, Budweiser, Burger King.
C- Coca-Cola, Cherry Coke, Campbell's Soup, Coppertone, Corvette, Chanel, Cisco.
D- Disney and Dr. Pepper.
E- Ed Hardy, Eggo.  Eggo, who would have thought that?
F- Ford, Fender, Ferrari.
G- Google.
H- Harley Davidson. No surprise here given its cult status and target market.
I-  Ikea.  (Maybe you put it on yourself?)
J- Jack Daniels. These tend to be large tattoos. Joe Camel is still popular
K- Kool Aid (There really is a cult of the Kool-Aid man.)
L- Louis Vuitton.
M- Microsoft, Mustang.
N- Nike.
O- Olympics, Oakley and Oreo. Olympic rings are common among athletes, as expected.
P- Pillsbury Dough Boy, Playboy, Pepsi.
Q- Quaker.Somehow tattoos don't suit the clean-cut wholesome image of a company that got a good start with oatmeal.
R- Reese's and Red Bull.
S- Starbucks.
T- Tim Horton's, Triumph.
U- Umbra.
V- Verizon, Versace and Volkswagon.
W- Wikipedia, Wendy's and Wal-Mart.
X- X Box.  (I didn't find Xerox!)
Y- Yahoo.
Z- Zippo.